West Bank settlement accepts its fate sadly

Though many Israelis are ready to fight the withdrawal, one community sees acts of defiance as futile.

July 14, 2005|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

GANIM, West Bank - Some Jewish settlers have vowed to barricade their families inside their homes, block roads with their bodies or take even more extreme action when Israeli police order them to leave their settlements in the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank next month.

But Israeli authorities won't have any trouble from Anita Kobi or her neighbors in Ganim. They'll already be gone.

In this West Bank settlement shaded by pine trees, residents say they remain opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal plan, but they have chosen to accept their fate instead of joining what they consider a hopeless struggle against it.

"What am I going to do? Go to jail? I have children," said Kobi, 50, who has lived in Ganim for eight years with her husband and three children and will move out this week. "It hurts. It's very sad. But we are respecting the law. That's all."

Kobi sat in the living room of her five-bedroom house, where dozens of boxes were piled up near the front door and the walls were bare except for hooks and nails. She and her family will take up residence this week in a new home in Afula, in Israel proper.

Of the 53 families who once lived in Ganim, 17 remained in the settlement last week. Some of them are expected to move this week, and the settlement will be empty before Aug. 15, when Israeli authorities will begin going door to door asking settlers to leave, said Dina Achdari, Ganim's spokeswoman.

"We are crying but we are going," said Achdari, who moved here 16 years ago.

Ganim's quiet, if sad, emptying contrasts sharply to other settlements the government designated for evacuation. Opponents there are stoking religious and political passions to defy the government's plans. In the Gaza Strip, the most stubborn settlers are erecting tent cities to house new residents, trucking in months' worth of food and water supplies and planting crops even though residents are unlikely be there to harvest them.

In Ganim, a cluster of cream-colored stucco homes topped with red tile roofs set in the hills east of Jenin, all was eerily quiet on a recent afternoon. Dozens of homes sat empty, their lawns cluttered with weeds, their front doors open. A solitary dog loped down a barren street.

Advertisements for moving companies, real estate agents and houses for sale were pinned up on the settlement's notice board. Blue, white and yellow streamers strung from the kindergarten to the elementary school fluttered in the wind, remnants of a tearful farewell party held last month.

Dozens of residents gave emotional goodbye speeches, but the gathering fizzled earlier than expected as residents drifted away, too sad to listen to more memories of their settlement, founded in 1983.

"It was more like a funeral than a party," Kobi said.

Things could have easily turned out differently here. Ganim's residents received several offers from right-wing groups to flood the town with Israelis who believe Jews have a divine right to the West Bank and Gaza. But residents firmly declined the offer.

Sanur, another of the four West Bank settlements slated for withdrawal, welcomed such assistance. Once home to a handful of artists, Sanur's population has swelled in recent months with dozens of religious families, many of them taking shelter in tents. To demonstrate their commitment to stay there, the settlers have started construction on a new synagogue.

But such displays of resistance were not for Ganim.

"They're crazy," Kobi said.

Unlike many settlements populated by religious families who are driven by faith and politics, Ganim's secular residents were largely motivated by Ganim's relaxed lifestyle and its sweeping views of the Jezreel valley's farmland and Palestinian villages.

"I love this place. It's pastoral, beautiful, green and quiet. It was like a little Switzerland until the war broke out," said Kobi.

The "war" was the last five years of violence of the Palestinian uprising. Ganim's residents became regular targets for attacks by Palestinian militants carrying out ambushes along the side of the road.

One resident was killed and a second was injured during attacks; the violence also drove away 20 families, Achdari said.

Even now, after months of relative calm, Ganim offers a striking juxtaposition of suburban pleasures and wartime threats.

By the side of the road leading here, a dozen soldiers practiced shooting at targets on a firing range. The settlement's entrance has a heavy security gate with a soldier posted there. Across from spacious homes, there is a fox hole draped in camouflage - part of the preparations for the worst. Ganim's kindergarten is surrounded by a thick, 10-foot high concrete barrier to protect it from snipers.

While residents are leaving, they insist that this should not be interpreted as support for Sharon's plan. They consider it an unwise retreat from the West Bank in the face of Palestinian violence.

"Uprooting a settlement is a victory for terror," Kobi says.

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